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LISCH LEADS THE WAY
By Matt McQuade
Sydney Kings’ captain Kevin Lisch sure picked the right time to bust out of an uncharacteristic shooting slump.
The superstar guard had 20 of his game-high 23 points in the second half as the Kings got a much-needed victory on Friday night, edging the Brisbane Bullets 80-77 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.
As he has done so often throughout his stellar career, Lisch was the man for his team when they needed him the most, leaving it all out on the floor in an inspirational display as Sydney won for just the second time in the past nine games and got their first win on the road since December 9 last year.
He also added six assists and did his usual yeoman work on defence, displaying that tremendous leadership for which he is so admired and playing 33 minutes despite a sore calf muscle.
“You saw the MVP Kevin in the second half,” Head Coach Andrew Gaze said in the post-game media conference.
“He hit big shots, he took control, wanted the ball, made big plays and got it back on track.”
“Kevin works as hard as anyone I’ve seen. He applies himself in the practice environment as well as anyone I’ve seen.”
“So when you’ve got a superstar like that working as hard as he does, I’ll live and die with him. I have faith in him.”
Sydney needed everything Kevin provided to turn back a desperate Bullets’ outfit that kept coming at the Kings until the final buzzer, but saw their playoff hopes extinguished by the purple and gold, who live to fight another day.
In fact, Brisbane had a shot at tying up the ballgame at the buzzer after Lisch and Jason Cadee (10 points, three assists) nailed four clutch free throws in the final minute.
However, Bullets’ guard Shaun Bruce slipped at a crucial time and could only get the ball to centre Tom Jervis, whose desperation heave for three was short as time expired.
Remarkably, Sydney’s win pushed them from seventh to third on the NBL ladder, with a chance to consolidate their position by defeating the New Zealand Breakers on Sunday afternoon at Qudos Bank Arena.
But they almost wasted another excellent start, after a first quarter where Tom Garlepp (11 points, six rebounds) and Greg Whittington (13 points, three rebounds) went a combined six of seven from the field in leading Sydney to a solid 24-17 lead.
Whittington’s third foul at the start of the second period meant he had to sit out the remainder of the first half, and Brisbane took advantage as import point guard Jeremy Kendle (16 points) sparked a 14-2 Bullet run to give them their first lead.
At that stage, that all too familiar uncomfortable feeling of another Sydney fadeout was very much prevalent, but Coach Gaze turned to a couple of reserves who became unlikely heroes on the night.
Craig Moller had all seven of his points in a critical two minute burst that slowed the Brisbane onslaught and William McDowell-White nailed a big triple as Sydney blasted ten straight points to regain some momentum and flow.
The fact Sydney led at the half – albeit by a single point – was a massive key to the outcome and a tribute to the effort of the team’s youngsters, who played with energy and heart.
And then, after going 1 of 6 from the field in the opening twenty minutes, the third quarter belonged to the one and only ‘D-Lisch’.
He blasted 12 points in the period, hitting four straight shots at one point, as the Kings kept answering every Brisbane foray with one of their own.
Another three from Sydney’s captain to start the final period gave the visitors a four point lead, and when Brisbane import Torrey Craig was fouled out with just over seven minutes remaining, the Kings grabbed control.
Cadee sprang to life with a deep triple, then found Whittington with a great pass for the alley-oop jam to push Sydney’s lead out to eight and it looked like the purple and gold were on the verge of breaking the game wide open.
But to their credit, the horrifically undermanned Bullets stayed close, helped by some awful Sydney turnovers and three missed free throws in back to back possessions.
Brisbane got it back to a one possession game before Aleks Maric grabbed the biggest offensive rebound of the night and pitched it to Lisch, who drained a key floater to make it a 76-71 ballgame with a minute left.
In the end, that gave the Kings the breathing room they needed, and despite some nervous moments, Sydney made enough plays to get the job done.
Sunday’s game against the Breakers at Qudos Bank Arena shapes up as one of the biggest of the season, so make sure you get your tickets now through Ticketek. Support your Kings as they fight for the finals!